Monday, December 26

Kosciuszko Squadron

"1919: Merian Cooper and six other former U.S. Army pilots offer their services to Poland in the 1919-1920 Soviet-Polish war. The Americans call themselves the Kosciuszko Squadron – a squadron that will live on in the Polish Air Force after the Americans go home.

At the end of WW I, a new independent Poland was created from territory previously held by Germany, Austria, and Russia. Poland thus regained the independence it had lost in 1795. Almost immediately the new Polish Republic was invaded from the east by the Bolsheviks.

In the spring of 1919, Merian C. Cooper, a former U.S. Air Service pilot in France, was visiting the Polish battle lines as the head of American relief work in southern Poland. When he saw the sacrifices being made by the Poles to defend their new nation, he thought of the possibility of an American volunteer squadron, similar to the Lafayette Escadrille of 1916, to assist them.

He immediately went to Paris where he met a friend, Cedric E. Fauntleroy, who had been a combat pilot during the war. Together, they received official permission to recruit former U.S. flyers for a Polish squadron.

Seventeen Americans volunteered their services to Poland and they formed the Kosciuszko Squadron, named in honor of tadeusz Kosciuszko, the Polish patriot who had fought so well in the American Revolution under George Washington.

These 17 men fought for Poland under difficult hardships. Repeatedly they flew bombing and strafing missions against hordes of Cossacks from the east. Also their supply of food, clothing, and equipment was seldom adequate. For example, the Polish Air Service had to use whatever airplanes it could obtain, so it was forced to purchase both Allied and German airplanes left over from WW I.

The Bolshevik invasion ended in May 1921 with victory for the Poles, and those members of the Kosciuszko Squadron still alive were discharged from further duty. "

From SAMWolf comment at The Freeper Foxhole (Free Republic's Daily History Thread) posted February 11, 2004

"The Kosciuszko Squadron was first used in the Kiev Offensive in April 1920, rebasing from Lwów to Polonne. Most of the Squadron's flights were directed against Semyon Budionny's First Cavalry Army. The Squadron developed a tactic of low-altitude machine-gun strafing runs. Polish land commanders highly valued the contribution of the Kosciuszko Squadron.

General Puchucki of the 13th Infantry Division wrote in a report: "The American pilots, though exhausted, fight tenaciously. During the last offensive, their commander attacked enemy formations from the rear, raining machine-gun bullets down on their heads. Without the American pilots' help, we would long ago have been done for."

Merian Cooper was shot down but survived. Budionny had put half a million rubles on Captain Cooper's head, but when he was caught by the Cossacks he managed to convince them that he was a mere corporal. A few months later he escaped from a POW camp near Moscow to Latvia.

In August 1920 the Kosciuszko Squadron took part in the defense of Lwów, and after the climactic Battle of Warsaw it participated in the epic Battle of Komarów which crippled Budionny's cavalry.

After the Polish-Soviet War, the 7th Kosciuszko Squadron was reorganized as the 121st Squadron and later as the 111th Squadron, each bearing the "Kosciuszko" eponym. The 111th Squadron fought in the Polish September Campaign. Perhaps the most famous successor to the original Kosciuszko Squadron would be the World War II No. 303 "Kosciuszko" Polish Fighter Squadron (Warszawski im. Tadeusza Kosciuszki), one of the most successful fighter squadrons in the Battle of Britain.

In 1920 the Kosciuszko Squadron made over 400 combat flights. Cedric Fauntleroy and Merian C. Cooper received Poland's highest military decoration: the Virtuti Militari. Another member of the Kociuszko Squadron to receive the Virtuti Militari was Mieczyslaw Garsztka (Posthumously)"

From Wikipedia

Flanders Fields

Re your comments about the guilt and remorse you feel about not doing more for your country: I think the emotions spring from the same sense of honor that drives so many of us who wear or have worn the uniform. There, but for the grace of God, could have gone I -- and it doesn't have to stay that way tomorrow.

Some call the obligation "paying it forward" -- our gift to the next generation, as we were gifted by those who went before. But I think of it as paying back; repaying the trust they had that we would not squander what they bought and paid for, often with boredom and loneliness, sometimes with the loss of those at home who couldn't or wouldn't wait, and sometimes, yes, with blood.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be it yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
-- John Alexander McCrae, In Flanders Fields

Annlee Hines

Pundita throws a party in the Elysian Fields

"Pundita, I read your post about your blogroll. I get purism but Julia Child didn't only cook French food. Now put that nice lady's blog on your blogroll. You like her blog so what's the problem?

I don't believe you're leaving the blogosphere. I think you're doing the deathbed scene in La Boheme. Merry Christmas to you and your TEAM, Diva.
Caesar in San Francisco"

Odd as it may seem considering that we've never met and I don't even know your name...I find myself thinking of you as a friend. Thus, when -- as you did in [a recent] post, and have once or twice since -- you allude to a sense of impending crisis or disaster in explaining your oft-deferred decision to depart the blogosphere, I suddenly seem to be viewing your continued presence with a vague sense of worry rather than the amused relief with which I have commented on these deferrals in the past.

Make no mistake, I still consider you a blessing to the blogosphere, and am personally most grateful for your continued presence ... but while I don't know your circumstances...I feel an increasing sense of foreboding.

I am not intending to intrude on your privacy, and I am not fishing for more information. If you feel like acknowledging this e-mail at all, I hope it will just be to say that everything is under control and I'm letting unfounded fears rush in to fill this information vacuum (something I should know better than to let myself fall victim to anyhow!). But failing that, please take care of yourself. Do what you need to do. Get yourself through this, whatever "this may be."

Your insights will be just as sharp and just as appreciated (most likely more so, actually!) when you're not risking yourself to share them with us.

Keep yourself well. And I'll be praying for you.

Dear Caesar:
Thank you for the beautiful Christmas e-card, which the team greatly appreciated. If you want to get Dymphna's Irish up, describe her as a "nice lady." She's a scrapper, like you.

Think back to the earliest seasons of the TV show. How could Julia Child have taught her audience to cook like a master chef, if she'd focused on following different recipes? Her cooking demonstrations focused on teaching basic techniques that would allow the audience to master any recipe.

The Pundita blog has focused on teaching readers to think in highly empirical fashion when taking in news about foreign affairs. First master that. Then US agendas -- the different recipes for dealing global situations -- will turn out better.

I have wanted readers to focus on what I have to teach. This does not make me a Diva. It makes me someone who always knew her time at blogging would be short.

However, I will admit to Drama Queen on occasion. Anything to keep the reader from bounding into the thickets of dogma. What great policy essays I could have written, if only I'd thought to crib from La Boheme and Madam Butterfly. How much more I could have accomplished! Where is Pundita's Kleenex box?

Dear Jim:
Thank you for your prayers. So. You show off your data analysis talents. You will get a Puffy Head Minder after you for sure, now. Yes yes, considering the little information you had to work with, you got into the ballpark.

The crisis has been looming for many months. That's why my essays can be very long. Often I write as if it's for the last time, in the manner of someone on the ship calling out last-minute thoughts to those on the pier while the plank raises. I have always known that I might shut down the blog very abruptly and be never heard from again on the blogosphere. I wanted to try to avoid that after I built up a relationship with readers. I wanted to figure a way to post on occasion.

However, there would be a crisis with or without the blog. I did not pay enough attention to my country before 9/11; I was not grateful enough for America's freedoms and protection. This, despite knowing firsthand that entire populations of women in some other world regions live as literal prisoners.

Many such women lie when confronted with the truth of their situation. Part of the lying is grounded in the Stockholm Syndrome; the other part stems tragically from a noble emotion: the determination not to betray the traditions of one's parents.

After I first saw all that, I fell on my knees when I got off the plane in the USA. I kissed the first American ground my feet touched. I can still remember the taste of grit and gasoline from where my lips touched. I did not wipe my lips. I felt I had kissed sacred ground.

Still, I did not enough appreciate the sacred ground. I used the freedom and protection of my birth land to concentrate on personal matters. On 9/11 I was overcome with guilt that I had not done enough to serve my country all those years prior. I will take the guilt and remorse with me to my death.

Now I have to return to one of those awful world regions. I have not wanted to go, in part because I will be risking my health with the arduous physical journey. Yet it's something I must do. The other part is not easy to explain.

I know that steady sustained action is what I need to muster instead of bursts of angry energy. Yet sometimes the patience required for that is hard to muster. God help me I don't fall prey to hatred during my travels. All the rest of the crisis, which I brought on by delaying the inevitable, is almost details next to this concern.

Humility is the best antidote to overdone bouts of righteous anger -- humility not an especially American trait.

No, I don't find it odd at all that you think of me as a friend. Same thing happened to me. I was never part of the Internet culture, never visited chat rooms and so on. Yet the blogging experience brought letters and also that thing, the site meter.

For the first five months of the blog I didn't have a site meter but once I got one -- I saw it showed the places of visitors. Places all around the world and in the USA, places in the US I'd never known about before. So while many regular readers of this blog have never written me and I don't know their names I came to know them by their city or town.

Then I would worry, if say, a reader in Wyoming or England didn't show up to read for several days. "Was everything all right? Hopefully just on vacation or too busy to visit." Yes, it happens. You don't start out meaning to care about people you've never met but you do simply because you actually have met on one level.

In the way the blind can 'see' someone as beautiful or ugly, we are not limited to knowing each other through physical meetings. Else how could so many have mourned the death of Sherlock Holmes and demanded the author restore him to life?

One evening almost 12 years ago I was in a terrible mood, so I wandered into an old theater in Georgetown that is no longer there, seeking to distract myself with a movie.

A documentary called The Kingdom of Zydeco was playing. The film was my first sight of Louisiana, the bayou country and its people.

It was love at first sight. I wanted to leave everything behind, get on a plane, then live out the rest of my days among the people of the bayou country.

I did not go. It was not just because of life's entanglements. I had glimpsed the Elysian Fields, but I knew it would not be like that if I visited. It would be a very human place, of course, with all the attendant troubles. I wanted to keep my idea of heaven removed from life's cares.

Over the next few years my thoughts would return to southwestern Louisiana and it would be a point of cheer.

Then one day this year I asked myself what I would do if I won a big lottery. I thought I'd put an announcement on the blog that I was inviting all the 'regular' Pundita readers to a party, all expenses paid no matter where they lived.

"Where should the party be?" I wondered. At first I thought of renting a cruise ship but that didn't sound right. Then I remembered the picnic in The Kingdom of Zydeco.

"That's it! I'll charter flights to the bayou country and throw a picnic. We'll eat crawfish stew and dance to Zydeco music, and we won't have a care in the world!"

The thought of the party gave me happiness.

Two months later Hurricane Katrina struck southwestern Louisiana, wrecking the fishing industry that had supported the region since anyone remembered. And as we all know all too well, much suffering then came to the people of the region.

I was deeply shaken by the news. I felt as if I'd lost a part of my heart. Finally I snapped at myself, "Your Elysian Fields are gone. Stop acting like a child."

On Christmas Eve I recalled the party. That's how I came across an Associated Press/Boston Globe report, A Light Endures on the Bayou:
This Christmas Eve the Mississippi River in Louisiana's bayou country lit up with miles of traditional bonfires built on the top of levees, just as had been done for over a century of Christmas Eves.

Residents of the region took weeks to build the massive 20 foot bonfires from woven sugar cane and wood materials -- the latter plentiful this year because Katrina felled so many trees.

Most bonfire piles are in the shape of a teepee, but this year one bonfire was in the shape of a helicopter, complete with propellers made of PVC pipe and silver duct tape. It was a tribute to the air rescue workers who retrieved people from roofs in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath.
When I read of the bonfires I realized that the spirit of the people I'd fallen in love with had not been extinguished by a storm.

I haven't won the lottery yet -- it might help if I remembered to buy a ticket -- but I have decided there's nothing to prevent me from throwing the party in my heart. We'll dance and eat crawfish stew and we'll laugh and not have a care in the world.

How baptism was invented

In the old days -- the really old days -- tribes had puffy head minders. That's how baptism was invented, according to the possum member of Pundita's foreign policy team.

The minder would be sitting around shooting the breeze, then suddenly grab a stick and run off to whack somebody with it. People never knew why, of course, but eventually they decided that they must have been thinking about getting ready to show off.

Showing off, in the old days, was really dangerous. Tribes with too many know-it-alls tended to get raided by saber-toothed tigers and all manner of poisonous snakes.

But still, people didn't want to get whacked. So they'd run and jump in a lake or river when they saw the minder running up. They'd stay underwater as long as they could then come up shouting, "Thank you minder, for saving me from a puffy head!"

Worked every time. The minder would go back to sitting at the campfire and shooting the breeze.

Sunday, December 25

Peace on Earth Alpha Whiskey Romeo

Merry Christmas to one and all. With prayers of thanks and gratitude for the service of American troops in the US and abroad.

Turning point: The Battle of Fallujah
"The rule of thumb for the last century or so has been that for a guerrilla force to remain viable, it must inflict seven casualties on the forces of the government it is fighting for each casualty it sustains ... By that measure, the resistance in Iraq has had a bad week. American and Iraqi government troops have killed at least 1,200 fighters in Fallujah, and captured 1,100 more. Those numbers will grow as mop-up operations continue.

These casualties were inflicted at a cost (so far) of 56 Coalition dead (51 Americans), and just over 300 wounded, of whom about a quarter have returned to duty.

"That kill ratio would be phenomenal in any [kind of] battle, but in an urban environment, it's revolutionary," said retired Army Lt. Col. Ralph Peters, perhaps America's most respected writer on military strategy.

"The rule has been that [in urban combat] the attacking force would suffer between a quarter and a third of its strength in casualties."

The victory in Fallujah was also remarkable for its speed, Peters said. Speed was necessary, he said, "because you are fighting not just the terrorists, but a hostile global media."

Fallujah ranks up there with Iwo Jima, Inchon and Hue as one of the greatest triumphs of American arms ... The resistance has suffered a loss of more than 2,000 combatants, out of a total force estimated by U.S. Central Command at about 5,000 (other estimates are higher) as well as its only secure base in the country."
-- Quotes from Jack Kelly's November 21, 2004 article Victory in Fallujah

Saturday, December 24

The 900 Lazy Bastards and global government

"Dear Pundita:
We were listening to a news show with Moises Naim and Tom Friedman talking about globalization and the need for a global government. I said to Sam, "Those are two of the 900 Lazy Bastards Pundita's always talking about."

Sam said, "The world is too complex for them so they want to make it simple by ruling over it."

I said, "Don't you see? The world is not too complex for them. They're selling a vacuum cleaner they know doesn't work."

Stop saying you're not a good teacher because you are. Sam and I have decided not to say goodbye to you. We want you to be safe and happy, is all.
Not Born Yesterday in New York"

Dear NBY:
Thank you for your good wishes, and for the letters and questions you've sent this past year. All the best to you and to Sam.

What Pundita hears, when she presses her ear to the ground and listens very closely to Mr. Naím's talk, is Brussels dialing for dollars to help them build up a military that would be as powerful as the US one. What Pundita hears from Mr. Friedman is an attempt to help the Democrat party define something approximating a foreign policy platform.

However, there's more to their talk than that, so we'll take some time with this one. With regard to your comments about Naím and Friedman -- no matter what you think of their views, you need to perk up your ears and listen with great attention and care to what they are saying. That's because you're going to be hearing a lot more, from many quarters, about the views and recommendations presented in the discussion you mentioned.

The views have been around for years, but now they're getting a big push because of mounting concern that once Bush leaves office US foreign policy will fall into a complete muddle.

No matter what foreign governments think of President Bush's foreign policy, his approach was crystal clear by 2003. When things are clear, you can plan around them. It was also clear by then that the State Department was not going along with Bush's policy and instead trying to stick with the Clinton approach, which was strongly oriented to the EU view. But with Bush's reelection, foreign observers could at least predict the tensions and maneuvers between State and the White House. Again, it was something they could plan around.

Yet the past year has given vivid indications that there is considerable dissension in the upper echelons of the Republican party with regard to foreign policy matters. So the growing perception in foreign circles is that Bush's doctrine will be ditched by the GOP, or at least watered down to such extent that it's no longer recognizable, if a Republican wins election in 2008.

When they turn to study the Democrats, foreign observers see a party that has built a foreign policy around opposition to the US invasion of Iraq and what the largest US trade unions think of trade pacts.

None of that is clear indication of what is going to happen to US foreign policy once Bush leaves office. To an American such a question is jumping the gun; we'll face the question in 2008. But foreign governments can't afford to be that shortsighted. They are looking for clear indicators and not finding them. The same for Americans who advise on foreign policy matters.

So the race is on to take control of the situation by trying to define an overarching agenda that is a sophisticated variation on multilateralism. You need to keep the race in mind while considering what Naím and Friedman said. Now I'll let the other readers in on the discussion you mentioned. From A World Without Borders - December 15 PBS NewsHour panel moderated by Ray Suarez:

"A lot of the failed states that you see around the world, the moment that the government fails it is replaced by these [transnational criminal] networks that immediately hone in and develop and exploit an export. Perhaps the only good thing that the country, that the rest of the world has is either logging or is either diamonds or is it drugs and opium or is it people?

And the point is that all of these countries at the end of the day are globalized. And in fact, in many, and the point of [my] book "Illicit" is that is this illicit trade that is reshaping much of the world. There is more going on under the radar than what is going on [at the WTO meeting] in Hong Kong. Illicit traders are reshaping the world in far more important ways than the ministers now meeting in Hong Kong.

...globalization has empowered individuals and weakened governments...the natural habitat of government is inside the country, inside the borders. And what globalization is creating is a world where borders are easier to trespass. And whereas governments are inside, there are all sorts of activities going on across borders that they have a hard time containing. And they are weaker.

I think it's very important to bring government back and to start thinking in which ways can we empower governments and make governments more amenable to deal with these challenges."

-- Moisés Naím

"Moisés is really laying out is there are a whole lot of issues today...that require global governance. We need some kind of global governance regime to deal with global warming, to deal with trade. But there is no global government, and so we're kind of caught between that right now. We suddenly live in a world, a flatter world where we are caught up in these transnational forces that really require someone to provide some rules."
-- Thomas L. Friedman

The links are to a biography, which I hope readers will study if they're under the impression that Friedman is simply a reporter and Naím is simply the editor of Foreign Policy Magazine. These are intelligent people who understand the modern era, and their thinking is highly connective, for want of a better term. "Connective" in this context means that when you take in the day's international news, you first view the news against what governments and the biggest globalized government-backed organizations are doing about the situation. (1) It's a kind of thinking that all Americans of voting age need to get better at doing.

Naím's most recent book (Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers, and Copycats are Hijacking the Global Economy.) spells out the grim truth: failing states are now an easy mark for criminal gangs that think and act globally. In the manner of vultures circling dying prey they use hard currencies to buy up the tanking bank system of a struggling country and from there, move to take over the government. They now have it down to a craft, in the manner that corporate raiders have perfected strategies to take over a company.

I haven't had time to read Illicit but from what I've heard about it, I recommend it to anyone who is trying to understand Paul Wolfowitz's statement that corruption is the greatest threat to democracy since communism. Paul is only giving a gentle introduction to a situation that Pundita's blog has pounded away at, and which Naím's book starkly illustrates with examples that amplify on the 2000 International Crime Threat Assessment Report.

Corruption -- bureaucrats and politicians taking bribes -- now has two very different aspects. There is the traditional one associated with getting things done quickly in government and to assure that legislation goes a certain way. Tracking alongside this traditional model is the use of bribes to buy up a government.

This second model is why I took a sudden keen interest in Louisiana. A report connected with the Katrina hurricane turned up that a French Canadian organization started by Maurice Strong reviewed all Louisiana's business contracts with foreign governments.

Strong's connections raise the possibility that North Korea's government had moved in on Louisiana's dock business. Unless you wanted to walk the cat back one step further and say that China's military had moved in.

In that event it would not be simply government-backed organized crime making more inroads, given Strong's hatred of the United States and his stated desire to find means to destroy the power of the USA.

Strong's influence on Louisiana's government has to be examined in light of George Soros' plan for taking the US power down several pegs: balkanize the might of the American nation out of existence; i.e., break up the US union of states into smaller countries.

Do struggling US leftist publications and policy institutes that accept grants from a Soros organization know about the Soros plan, which he's not bothered much to hide underneath his talk about open society? Do Louisiana's legislature and Kathleen Blanco understand what Maurice Strong is connected with, beyond a nice Cajun cultural organization?

The best answer is that when your company or state government is desperate for cash it's hard not to take the attitude of Scarlett O'Hara: I promise to think about such questions tomorrow.

That is what governments are up against today. As the potentially ominous situation with Louisiana suggests, it's not only national governments that are targeted by sophisticated crooks looking to buy up a government. The target is any weak government: central, state, city. So Americans need to understand the stuff Naím talks about because it is not limited to a struggling countries on the other side of the world.

However comma one should remember that Mr Naím labors for Foreign Policy magazine, which is put out by The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. When last I checked, that policy institute had Mikhail Khordokovsky on the board. That's not saying much; he sat on more than one influential policy board during his salad days. Yet wherever there is Mikhail Khordokovsky, by following twists and turns one bumps into card-carrying mobsters, of just the kind Mr Naím warns about.

To put this another way, and without casting aspersions on Carnegie Endowment or Mr Naím's character, you need to make a clear distinction between the information people give you and what they'd like you to do with it.

Carnegie Endowment, as with all influential policy institutes, has a certain point of view, which they push at every opportunity to any editor looking for background on a story of particular interest to the institute.

From his biography, I assume Naím's recommendations for how to deal with globalized crime track closely with plans under consideration at the World Bank-IMF.

Thomas Friedman seems to have a somewhat different orientation, although I have not read any of his books and only a few of his articles for The New York Times. But obviously his latest book (The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century) is his clearest argument for a one-world governing institution.

From what I have read and from his biography, I suspect Friedman's outlook is steeped in the civil service view: Yes, the vacuum cleaner doesn't live up to its warrantee, but the homeowner can't afford a deluxe model and the clinker is an improvement over broom and dustpan.

I have sympathy with the civil service view. Just as someone's got to shovel manure and haul trash, there have to be people who are tasked with picking up the shortfall in the public's attention to complex governing matters. That unnecessary and unproductive tax burdens and much counterproductive legislation evolves from this work -- what's the alternative? In an era when people are so busy they can only eat breakfast and find time to pay bills while stuck in their daily commute traffic jam?

So I suspect Friedman is taking a pragmatic approach to dealing with serious threats to democracy brought about by globalized problems. I'd guess he's saying, Let's stop clowning around and set up a global central government to sort through the problems before they overwhelm even the mature democracies.

If I am right, it suggests Friedman is task-oriented. He's looking at the number of tasks involved in solving complex cross-border problems and saying that a governing organization has to take charge of prioritizing them. And from what I read of Friedman's early promotion of the US invasion of Iraq, I think his focus is on protecting democracy.

Naím seems altogether more complex in his orientation. I have known a great many people who sound like Naím when they talk. The halls of international institutions are crowded with them. They look at the power of the USA as a fact of the world's existence. Their concern is how to use the American power to maintain order in the world while at the same time de-Americanizing agendas regarding global affairs.

This seemingly contradictory view is not so much anti-American as pro-order. Opposition from many quarters to American agendas makes for disorderly and stalemated official meetings.

So if Friedman represents the rank-and-file civil servant view, Naím represents the view of officials who must negotiate compromises and try to come out with something constructive.

From his biography, Friedman is much too busy to qualify as a 900 Lazy Bastard and besides he has no position in officialdom. But busy pragmatists who look for simple solutions unwittingly clear the path for The 900 Lazy Bastards, who as Charlotte (the possum member of Pundita's team) has assured me, sit around under rocks waiting for humanity to get on a roll.

"Then they come out from under their rocks," explained Charlotte, wrinkling her snout in distaste, "And promise to fix everything you don't like if they can sit on your back."

Yet Friedman's call for a one-world government finds him contradicting the thesis of his book; this is plainly seen from studying the transcript of the discussion. Friedman notes that because of the convergence of technology and the globalized era, individuals and small collections of individuals have gained the power to stand up to officialdom.

How, then, does it follow that a global government will manage to ride herd on the unruly masses in the globalized era?

Naím's thesis runs into the same problem. If transnational crime syndicates run circles around governments, how does a meta-government prevent gangs from running meta circles around it?

As for the great success of the crime syndicates, they've simply been running ahead of communications ability. Yet whether it's in a remote village in the Third World or a crowded neighborhood in Chicago, as soon as people have the means to effectively communicate with each other about matters that alarm them, momentum quickly builds for action.

So a larger truth than the one Naím describes is that police departments around the world have been swamped with tips about crime since cell phones became ubiquitous. And as soon as talk radio comes to a village, the chief's demand for a bribe to do his job gets blabbed all over the region.

It's just that the crooks have been ahead of the implementation of technologies. The 311 system I wrote about is still in its infancy with regard to use and implementation. (See Governing in the Age of Megapopulations.) But it's on the way, all over this country and the world.

And it's getting harder for corruption to be buried. Recently all of India watched in outrage as video of an Indian member of parliament taking a bribe was beamed to their TV sets. The 21st Century's version of Candid Camera.

Many Westerners have never been in an Old World village so they're not entirely clear on they mean when they speak of the global "village." Believe you me, nobody gets away with much in a village. The old people sit around the centrally located well all day and watch everything that happens. In regions where there are monkeys, the monkeys sit around on the village roofs and watch everything that happens. When monkeys don't like a human, they nip him or make a ruckus or get oddly still. So then you start watching the person the monkey doesn't like, to see what's wrong with the person.

Everybody knows everybody else's business in a village. Village life is stifling because of this, but it's also much safer than a city. Very few murders and other big crimes. So we don't need a radio tag injected under our skin at birth or a one-world government to manage the world shrunk by effective communications. We just need human nature and ICT to take their course.

Most humans don't like crooks and graft; most of us just want to get along in the world without doing undue harm to others. And for every crook, there is a human with a hunter's nature who enjoys nothing more than tracking down a crook.

This said, we are in a very difficult transition period and down the road we face the specter of massive dislocations of human populations because of water shortages. That will lead to more water wars.

One of the greatest worries I have with regard to the Middle East concerns what success in Iraq will do to the region's water supplies. As soon as Iraq's moribund economy gets off the ground and industry builds up -- what are they going to do for water? Many more Iranians and Syrians will migrate to Iraq to find work. The trickle will become a flood of migrants if democracy stays in Iraq.

The biggest nightmare scenario is reverse diaspora if the Bush Doctrine is successful. Imagine a democratic Middle East drawing back millions who fled poverty and oppressive government. And imagine millions of African workers migrating there to serve the industries that rise up once the Middle East economies take off. What are they going to do for water? What are the new industries going to do for water?

Problems of such magnitude leer at our current technologies, so at some point down the road is a very rough patch for humanity. Yet if modern history is the guide, the problems will be best addressed by private industry coming up with engineering solutions and local central governments working in close cooperation.

This does not mean the G8 governments and major international organizations cannot be a help. But right now the G8 are trying to implement solutions through international organizations that are rife with graft, inefficiency, and undue politicking (of the kind contributing to the ongoing plight of refugees in Darfur).

Pundita wants to see an independent audit of the IMF and the World Bank's finances before I will agree to study their recommendations for dealing with globalized corruption and crime. And I want the audit results published on the Internet for all the world's taxpayers to see.

And I want to see every recommendation made by John Bolton for accounting reform at the UN implemented, before I would study their recommendations on dealing with corruption and organized crime.

1) In the spring I gave an example of this kind of thinking when a reader asked me about my opinion of a Time magazine cover story on Jeffrey Sachs' call for an all-out globalized war on Africa's worst poverty.

The second I saw the Time story I thought, "I see Gordon and Kofi are marshaling the troops."

Then I went on to read Sachs' ideas within the context of calls for the developed countries to cancel the debt of African nations, which Gordon Brown wanted at the top of the agenda at the G-8 meeting in the summer. And I pointed Pundita readers to Gordon Brown's speech some months earlier at a big US policy institute, which was a preview of things to come at the Gleneagles summer meeting.

Another example, which I can't recall whether I published, was my first reaction to a National Geographic story on H5N1, which featured on the cover a dramatic close-up photograph of an Asian who had obviously just died in hospital.

I thought, "Uh oh. WHO is dialing for dollars again."

I then slammed on the brake. Since 2004 I'd bemoaned how little attention the media had given to the situation, so I was relieved when the media began pushing the story. The question was how governments were preparing to deal with H2H of mutated H5N1 and how international funds were being spent on such projects.

"I'm seeing a lot of emphasis on pharmaceuticals," I told a friend after I studied WHO proposals and those by major governments for warding off pandemic. "And not enough emphasis on quarantine measures such as human temperature detectors installed at airports."

"That's because it's not possible to cut a temperature detector with water and sell it as flu vaccine on the streets of Bombay and Mexico City" he replied.

I thought of his remark when US customs announced they'd caught a shipment of counterfeit Tamiflu.

Before the days of the globalized Internet and user-friendly search engines such as Google and references such as Wikipedia, it was not easy to learn to make such connections. Not unless you had specialized knowledge of a certain sector or took great pains to keep yourself informed about major international situations.

Today, any American with Internet access can type "Jeffrey Sachs Africa" into a search engine and follow the Yellow Brick Road until coming to G8. After a time making such connections gets faster because you find the same names and situations popping up in connection to certain organizations with global reach.

And as I've advised before you can always stumble into the ballpark by asking yourself, "You're telling me because?"

Poverty across much of Africa has been with us all our lifetime, but if a media uproar suddenly arises that is unconnected with any specific happening in a country, that's the time to pay attention to the known players and look at the calendar.

If thinking in connective fashion sounds a daunting task, it's like anything else; with practice it becomes habitual.

Is there a big trade meeting coming soon? Are we nearing the Spring IMF-World Bank meeting? Who is chairing the G8 meeting this year and what is his pet project? What is the State Department trying to tell us about this country? What's big on the table at Brussels these days? And so on.

Welcome to the world that has been bubbling along for a half century outside the narrow focus of the US major news media. They plop out reports at the time of the meetings, but don't make connections between earlier stories and the meetings. Result: the public does not have a coherent view of foreign affairs.

None of this means issues such as H5N1 and African poverty don't deserve your attention. It means that in the globalized world of today, you need to learn to look for signs about what a powerful faction wants you to do about a situation that has global implications.

This so you don't find yourself three years down the road asking, "How did my tax dollars get involved in this mess?"

What the factions want you to do depends on how they stack the data about a situation. The stack is rarely all good or all bad. Sachs' book about poverty in Africa is informative on range of issues, and the National Geographic cover story about the threat of an Avian Flu pandemic is a decent introduction to the subject. However, canceling Africa's debt across the board, and the UN's idea of how to ward off a pandemic, are not necessarily the best solutions.

Friday, December 23

Iran analysis: intel school's in session

Below is a letter I dashed off in response to Stratfor head George Friedman's analysis for John Batchelor's audience on Thursday. I decided to publish the letter because it illustrates how differently the same intelligence can be analyzed by different people.

Caveats: While some of my points have been presented in expanded form in recent posts, readers who do not follow Batchelor's show might have trouble following some of my comments. And while I make no apology I acknowledge that I'm being unfair to Friedman because I have provided virtually no quotes from his report.

Terms used in the letter: IR = Iran, IQ = Iraq, ME = Middle East, Maddy = Ahmadinejad, Iran's President.

> Dilip = Dilip Hiro, who also guested on Batchelor's show on Thursday to analyze the Iraq election and Iran's meddling in the election.

> Loftus = John Loftus

> Seffy = Yossef Bodansky

> Dombey = Daniel Dombey, a reporter for The Financial Times who also guested on the Thursday show to analyze the impasse regarding EU negotiations with Iran about Iran's nuclear program.
* * * * * *
I see a pattern here -- Friedman seems to be looking at the ME from the viewpoint of Washington. Maddy is looking at the ME from the viewpoint of a Middle Easterner. He's playing to the Middle East much more than Europe and the US. Maddy is not trying to present himself as mad but as wholly consistent.

So I say let's try and look at things from Maddy's point of view:

1) As for the bellicosity -- threatening to destroy Israel -- Friedman's explanation (Maddy putting on crazy act to scare world) ignores the obvious, which is that Iran said virtually the same thing even before Maddy was put in power. (Remember the missile with 'For Israel' or similar painted on it and paraded for the cameras?)

As to why Maddy called for Israel's destruction at that particular time -- it came on the virtual eve of Iraq's election. So I think the statement is somehow tied to that. Maybe he's trying to make the anti-Israel position the 'official' Shia one -- to dampen any tendency for the new Iraqi government to negotiate with Israel.

Also, the statement was terribly embarrassing to the Saudis, who pushed the two-state solution for all they were worth. By coming out so strongly against Israel, Maddy is in effect saying, "We Shia (led by Iran, of course) are the real spiritual leaders of the region, not the House of Saud."

Another point: isn't there some tit-for-tat going on here? I seem to recall from a few months back that Israel made the threat of having to take strong action if Iran continues to develop nuke weapons. From that view, it's not surprising that Maddy would get reciprocal in his rhetoric.

Also, his statement might have something to do with Hamas; by saying that Israel should be destroyed, he might be sending a warning to Hamas leaders that they shouldn't allow Palestine politics to cause them to strike any deals with Israel or with factions that don't take such a hard line against Israel.

2) I suspect the Holocaust denial talk was directed more at the Germans than Israel. IR has sought to embarrass the new German administration; Seffy's analysis last night explains why. They have been using every means to pressure Germany into backing off a hard line on Iran's nuclear program. Raking up the Holocaust makes sense within that context.

3) Friedman didn't mention Maddy's talk about religion. I have discussed this angle in one of my posts; I bring it up here to dash Friedman's thesis that Maddy is trying to present himself as crazy in order to scare the world. (We're getting the Bomb plus we're nuttier than a fruitcake so watch out, world.)

Maddy's yappity-yap about religion is not crazy talk and it's quite easy to understand, if one recalls that Qom became the spiritual center for Shia after Saddam cracked down on IR holy cities. Iraq's Karbala and Najaf are the holy of holies for Shia, not Qom. Dilip correctly noted that after Saddam fell a third of Iranians made a pilgrimage to the IQ holy cities. Those pilgrims brought with them donation money that would otherwise have gone to Qom coffers. Add to this, the IQ clerics who took refuge in Qom are returning to Iraq.

In short, after Saddam's crackdown (after the Shia uprising), Qom took on a greater significance that it's now losing. Also, IR is playing the 'Shia Brotherhood' card for all it's worth, in order to woo IQ Shia.

Maddy's talk about the Second Coming of the Mahdi and his spiritual visions needs to be viewed against all the above. He's making a pitch.

4) As for Friedman's statement that Iranian expats have inflated the percentage (80%) of Iranians who are against their present regime, where's his data to support that statement? The percentage is based on polls, not on the guesstimates of expats; if Friedman wants to say the polls are skewed -- given that the Iranians live under a military dictatorship, it's hard to get good polling under those circumstances.

5) As for Friedman's admittedly convoluted thesis about Israel -- I don't know what he is talking about. And I do not understand why Friedman thinks Israel could knock out Iran's nuclear facilities. My understanding, from what Seffy and Loftus have said on earlier broadcasts, is that Israel does not have the capability for an effective preemptive strike on Iran's nuke facilities, and Dombey's analysis shores that.

One has to take such intel with a grain of salt -- Israel has been known to be very creative in the past -- but for now, I am accepting the claim that a preemptive strike is virtually ruled out.

What bugged me is that Friedman rationalized the convolutions by saying that of course it's complicated (to the point of gibberish) because "this is the Middle East we're talking about." The very clear implication is that nothing can make sense in that part of the world given the people involved. So the needle on my Sahib-0-Meter went into the red range while listening to his comment.

But you need to put Stratfor in perspective. They have done excellent analysis on certain situations and world regions, and in others they've fallen down in my view. The lesson it's that it's unwise to rely blindly on any one intelligence/news source.

And you need to put aside your views while taking in intel and analysis. Dilip is such an apologist for Iran's current regime, and so anti-American in his views, that he can be very hard for an American to take. But he has a lot of contacts in Iran and tremendous knowledge about Iran and Iraq's political history.

He made some very good points tonight -- in particular about the factor of Iran's greater population number vis-a-vis Iraq. Another good point is the comparison he drew between the Iraq-Iran relationship and the Mexico-US one.

Iran is a powerful country next to a weak one, yet what happens to that weaker country is of great strategic importance to the stronger one. So one should expect a certain amount of meddling from the stronger country or at least the attempt to wield influence on the country's political affairs.

I think Dilip's wrong to dismiss complaints that Iran 'stole' Iraq's election. But I think we need to confront that even if Iran's present regime is replaced by a better one, Iran will try to influence politics in Iraq. The same will hold true for Iraq, when they get stronger -- they will try to influence Iran's politics.

There will always be a lot of ebb and flow between the two oil-producing countries. As Iran's oil reserves continue to shrink, they will be greatly tempted to get a piece of Iraq's oil production.

One other point that struck me from Dilip's analysis: just because leading Iraqi politicians took refuge in Iran for years, it does not necessarily follow that they will be under Iran's thumb now that they are returned to their country.

We can't assume that every Iraqi who lived under the protection of Iran's regime -- there were many such Iraqis -- is going to follow the line of the present regime in Iran. Some will lean more toward the regime, some less. Differences with the regime will become more apparent as the returned Iraqis get settled into the business of governing Iraq.

Yet the truth is that returned Iraqis who left the region to settle in the US and Europe (e.g., Allawi) during Saddam's regime (many such Iraqis lean toward secular government) are simply not as accepted among Iraqi Shia as the Iraqis who took refuge in Iran. Dilip also emphasized this point in his discussion.

All the above points up that useful intel/analysis can come from someone who is not on America's side. The opposite is true; a strongly pro-American observer doesn't necessarily deliver good analysis or useful intelligence.

Intelligence work really is about fitting together 'mosaics' -- bits of data that you try to form a picture with. Dilip's report is interesting to compare with Seffy's Wednesday one. They are both looking at essentially the same data. But Seffy, who takes the side of Israel and the US, sees in Iran's machinations much to worry about. Dilip, who takes Iran's side, sees no cause for Iraq to worry about Iran. The most accurate picture of the vast transitions probably falls somewhere between those two views. That would call for fast reflexes on the part of US diplomacy -- and the Gold Dinar Fairy.

To return to Dombey's report for a moment: I love that he brought out (under Batchelor's questioning) that Brussels and Washington are unable to confront that their actions toward Iran are appeasement. His entire analysis was very sharp, very precise and easy to follow: US has outsourced job of negotiation to the E3, and they've outsourced the job to Russia.

Batchelor asked why pin hope on Russia, which has just reported an agreement to sell close to a billion worth of weapons/weapons tech to IR? Dombey: EU3 and US hope that even if the Russian solution doesn't work (so far it's been rejected by Iran), allowing Russia to propose their solution puts them in line with EU3-US. So if it goes to the UN, China will be reluctant to stand against EU3-US-Russia.

Of course what's hysterically funny (graveyard humor), and which Dombey brought out, is that none of this diplomatic maneuvering is working; Tehran continues to thumb its nose at the EU3-US and will continue to do so at the UN.

All that is very bad news, and it jibes with Seffy's Doom & Gloom Wednesday analysis. Right now, Iran definitely has the upper hand.

Thursday, December 22

Doom, Gloom, and knowing when to sit and when to get off your butt

"Sorry you're shutting down the blog. I guess you heard the bad news last night from Yossef Bodansky [on John Batchelor's show]. Iran has won this round in Iraq and they got Germany to capitulate on the matter of nukes. So it will be more rounds of negotiation with the EU3 that go nowhere.
Ahmed in Los Angeles"

Dear Ahmed:
Always keep in mind that whatever Batchelor's view of a situation, he presents intelligence rather than 'news' -- or rather he looks at news stories as intelligence, which is the right way to look at news, especially during war. But Seffy (Bodansky) is a card-carrying intelligence gatherer and analyst in the pure sense of the terms. So he takes some getting used to.

I nicknamed Seffy "Dr Doom" before I met him. (Our meeting described in a Pundita essay about my adventures at the National Intelligence Conference.) In person he was nothing like the voice of doom I'd heard on Batchelor's show -- until he settled down at a seminar to describe the hurdles that intelligence work faces when Washington politicians get to make decisions on national security. He switched to his professional mode, which is not geared to sunny days.

I learned that it helps to try and think like a general while listening to Batchelor's show. Do you really want the forward observers ringing you up on the satphone and saying, "Our side is beating the pants off the enemy."

No. You want all the bad news, every bit of it that can be dug up.

Iran is an endless source of delight for Doom & Gloomers because Iran is Bad News Central. But what was done over a generation in that part of the world is not undone in a couple years.

It helps Americans to remember that the map designations of "Europe" and the "Middle East" are artificial when seen from the viewpoint of history. The ancient trade hubs of the Middle East that became large cities had tremendous interaction with empires we associate with Europe. The interaction was at all levels -- war, trade, social.

Americans think of the Shah of Iran as an American puppet, but his rule reflected the European monarchical outlook (even more than the dynastic one of ancient Persia). The clans in the rural areas of his rule were treated in the manner of Europe's serfs during the feudal era. Meanwhile, the Iranians who served the Shah's government and who were educated in the US absorbed ideas they found useful, but they didn't come away from the experience with the American view of society.

A very different story for Iranians educated in Western Europe, simply because the "European" view of government was not foreign to them.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's views were profoundly shaped by European thinking and notably French thought. So when Saudi-educated Arabs were brought into the revolutionary government, Iran became in a very real sense "Eurabia." A traditional Wahabist set of laws was superimposed on a manner of socialist government that was lifted from Europe.

That's the ballpark for much of the Old World. Meanwhile, the American view languished behind the literal and figurative walls of diplomatic and military enclaves in the Middle East, and the very brief Gulf War did not change the situation.

To put all this in evocative terms, it was the ideas of French philosophers that were hotly debated in Cairo's coffee houses. To whatever extent the ideas of America's founding fathers made material for debate, it was highly abstract because the American experience was so foreign.

Ironically, it was the televising of the 9/11 attack and aftermath that brought many Middle Easterners their first empirical view of American life; i.e., a view that was not grounded in abstractions.

The strongest impression conveyed by the aftermath footage was of people not sitting around and asking what was to be done. Image after image showed civilian Americans running toward the disaster, pitching in to help in any way they could.

The history of the American democracy in one sentence.

Americans have a big heart, courtesy of the great freedom and vastness of our society and the profound influence of ideals on our thinking. We lead with our heart, which has its downsides, but that's our style.

The style needs to be tempered by knowledge while we're thrashing around in the Middle East. We're gaining the knowledge, firstly because we're now we're taking instruction directly from the peoples -- Iranians, Iraqis, Egyptians, Jordanians, and so on -- instead of policy analysts.

Secondly because we're getting the instructions in the manner of a climber following an experienced mountain guide. Instruction is very direct, life-or-death oriented, visceral: "Do this. Don't do that."

This kind of instruction also reflects the "Eastern style" teaching. I've met Westerners who have yearned to study with an Eastern master of the old school. I assure them the experience is hell for Westerners, particularly for those who have no military training.

There's really not so much need for that kind of teaching in a modern, highly civilized society, which is very safe. But it's still not a safe world and thus, the old school method of teaching still has it's place.

The basis of the Eastern method is that the Master knows everything and the student never knows anything. No matter how much the student learns, he's still a complete idiot. This style is very hard on modern Westerners, who are schooled to believe they have worth, that their opinions matter, and that they are progressing. So American students in particular create complex strategies to protect their ego, which only gives the Master more opportunity to show them for fools.

Only after you leave the Master do you realize from unfolding experiences that you developed some real wisdom during your time as the Master's student; you were the Eternal Stupid only within the context of the teacher-student relationship.

You don't become the fountainhead of wisdom because wisdom is as much a matter of living through many experiences as anything. But you learn to apply your knowledge and life experience in ways you didn't think of before. You learn when it's smart to play the Fool role you had no choice but to take on with the Master. You learn to really think about when it's wise to let others play Wise Man.

Within a year of leaving the Master, I figured a way to save 20,000 refugees from being slaughtered in cold blood by a military in the middle of a genocidal campaign. Yes, one person took on an entire military -- an entire government -- and won a battle.

As to how I did it -- the Master had taught me that if you've got nothing in your hand that means you're holding all the Joker cards and to keep playing them. I realized that I had one bit of information that the military did not have, and I played it to the hilt.

Yet I couldn't have done it without help from a group of incredibly brave and good-hearted Muslim men and boys. They really understood the kind of people they were dealing with in that military. It was their part of the world and they knew it inside out.

That, too, I learned from the Master: when it's vital to listen. Between what I knew and they knew, we worked a kind of miracle. And not one drop of blood was shed.

Americans in the Middle East are definitely in the role of the Fool, yet the more we stay in there and play (as against staying behind enclave walls and writing checks), the wiser we'll become.

They just got too much into the Endurance groove in that part of world, is all. When you can't pick up and leave your native region, you develop great patience and endurance. The extreme opposite is the United States of America, which evolved from people who said, "I'm not taking this shit anymore," and left their birth region.

There's a limit to the usefulness of any one way of dealing with things: the intense originalism and reflexivity of the American psyche, which comes from not putting up with things as they are, easily means short patience for situations that require endurance.

On the other hand, the tremendous endurance of the Old World psyche easily devolves to a futile reliance on patience when bold improvisation is clearly required.

Thus, the dialogue between the Old World and the New World began in earnest when we decided to stay on and hack it out in Iraq.

Wednesday, December 21

Pundita lost her temper. Sigh.

I'd wanted to keep the post about Pakistan's quake victims at the top of today's pile of posts, and also because I added an exchange with Dave Schuler to the post (his second comments found at 4:15 PM entry). But then I saw this news item and saw red...


What set Pundita off is the suspicion that Chalabi is somehow involved in turning a small problem into a big mess. And Allawi will have to somehow pick up the pieces. Again. They are related, I think -- cousins or brothers-in-law; I don't recall which at this moment. Maybe it's Karma.

"Iraq election losers unite to contest result
21 Dec 2005 17:38:55 GMT
Source: Reuters

(Adds detail, background)

By Mariam Karouny and Omar al-Ibadi

BAGHDAD, Dec 21 (Reuters) - Iraq's Sunni Arab and secular parties threatened on Wednesday to boycott the new parliament after alleging massive fraud in last week's election, ramping up pressure on the triumphant Shi'ite Islamists to share power.

Sunni rebels, whose informal truce helped push turnout to 70 percent as insurgents pitched for a voice in the new, full-term legislature, warned they would intensify attacks if the Shi'ite Alliance held on to the lion's share of power.

The Electoral Commission, which opposition groups demanded be dissolved accusing it of bias, rejected calls for a rerun of the vote, saying complaints were numerous but unlikely to affect the overall result -- a view held by U.S. and U.N. officials.

With demands for a rerun or a substantial revision of the vote looking unlikely for now, lobbying by those disappointed with their shares of the vote seemed intended to back up calls for posts in a grand coalition government -- something the ruling Shi'ites have offered and Washington is encouraging.

Representatives of secular Shi'ite former prime minister Iyad Allawi and two major Sunni Arab groups, the Islamist-led Iraqi Accordance Front and the secular Iraqi Unified Front, along with other groupings, met on Wednesday to coordinate.

"We all agreed to contest and reject the results of the election," said Allawi aide Thaer al-Naqib. "We want the Electoral Commission dissolved and the election rerun."

"We will take to the streets if necessary," he told Reuters. "We might even not take up our seats in the new parliament and so any new government would be illegitimate."

Unified Front leader Saleh al-Mutlak said they would take their complaints not only to the Electoral Commission but also the Arab League, European Union and United Nations.

Other Sunni Arab leaders have warned of a resumption of rebel violence if leaders whom they accuse of being puppets of Shi'ite, non-Arab Iran keep power; there were brief clashes with U.S. forces in the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi on Tuesday.

"The resistance will intensify and ... and much blood will be spilt if Iran's agents gain power," said Majeed al-Gaood, who says he speaks for rebel groups, from neighbouring Jordan.

The United States, anxious to staunch the revolt as part of a strategy of withdrawing its 150,000 troops while leaving Iraq stable, has also made no secret of concerns over links between Shi'ite leaders and Washington's enemy Iran and over accusations pro-government sectarian militias are killing with impunity.

Though always denying having preferences for the election result, U.S. officials have made clear they want to see a broad, inclusive government across the sectarian and ethnic divides, even if the Alliance retains its slim majority in parliament.

The U.S. ambassador to Baghdad said pointedly on Tuesday that the Interior Ministry, target of much Sunni criticism over sectarian attacks, should not be run by a sectarian figure.

Provisional results offer an unclear picture of the new assembly, particularly since a complex process of redistributing votes is required to allocate 45 of the 275 seats. However, Shi'ite leaders believe they can expect at least 120 seats and possibly as many as the 140 or so they have at present.

Electoral Commission chief Hussein al-Hindawi told a news conference that 10.9 million voters took part on Thursday, putting national turnout at 70 percent, much higher than the 58 percent who participated in January's ballot, when many in the Sunni Arab minority stayed away from the polls.

Among the regional votes, turnout in western Anbar province, where insurgents are strong in towns like Ramadi, hit 55 percent. That compared to just two percent in the Jan. 30 election for an interim assembly." (Additional reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman and Alastair Macdonald in Baghdad)

American quake aid in Pakistan's Northwest province "absolutely stunning"

That quote from Brent Stevens, Wall Street Journal reporter, on Tuesday's John Batchelor show. Brent was in the region last week. He reported that about a thousand US troops are there, and rendering so much help (including huge road-clearing projects and the only functioning hospitals) that when a Muslim cleric gave an anti-American speech in a mosque he was booed by the Pakistani worshippers.

The bad news is that the winter is closing in fast (2-3 weeks), there are 3 million homeless from the quake, and many of the tents they've been provided have not been winterized. The Pak military is doing a good job of coordinating relief efforts, according to Brent, but the quake areas "look like Hiroshima after the Bomb was dropped" so even with help from the US military and other outside agencies, recovery is very slow going.

Brent did not explain why there is a problem with getting winterized tents to the region, but I wonder whether the 20,000 tents provided by the United Nations are winterized. I note from an Ireland Online article that the UN also provided "60,875 plastic sheets and more than 320,000 blankets."

Not to strike a sour note, but I question the priorities. The first need is winterized tents, and that would have been obvious from the day of the quake.

"UN humanitarian relief co-ordinator Jan Vandemoortele appealed for an additional €37.3m to provide survivors with thick blankets and shelter materials. He said another 2.4 million blankets, 170,000 plastic sheets and 200,000 tarpaulins were needed."

Again, I would think that the top priority is winterized tents. Brent reported that there have been many fires in the tent cities because people are trying to waterproof the tents by pouring kerosene on them. This has caused many accidents from cooking fires, so the hospitals are reporting burn and smoke-inhalation victims.

In related news, Kofi Annan has appointed President Bush's father as special UN envoy for rehabilitation and reconstruction in quake-hit areas of northwestern Pakistan and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. Perhaps George W. Bush can get things moving with regard to winterized tents.

More prayers are needed. Hopefully, the winter will be mild in that part of the world this year.

2:45 PM Update
I am republishing this essay under a new time so it will stay at the top of the blog today. Also, I received a comment from Dave that I should share:

Dear Pundita:
According to reports that I've heard there's a U. S. MASH unit set up not far from the quake's epicenter complete with ICU. At this point only about 30% of those who present themselves for treatment are earthquake victims (although nobody's being turned away. That suggests that the U. S. military has become the primary health care provider for a good-sized chunk of Pakistan.
Dave Schuler
The Glittering Eye

Dear Dave:
Thank you for the news; I didn't realize they were providing so much health care. This also helps explain why the cleric was booed. We've heard so much about the US acting unilaterally; this, as contrasted with multilateralism. But actually the US has been tracking toward bilateralism (or at least 'falling into' that approach). This strikes me as a good thing because it allows for highly reflexive responses to the needs of other governments. This is the second time recently that the US military has responded with great efficiency to a humanitarian crisis. (Well, I think one could add Katrina to the tsunami and the quake, if the military had been brought earlier into relief planning for the hurricane.) A tragedy their hands are tied with regard to helping in Darfur.

4:30 PM
I think that robust bilateral ties particularly with strategic countries like Pakistan are a very positive approach for the United States and an approach which capitalizes on our strengths rather than emphasizing our weaknesses.

I'm quite skeptical of multi-lateral agreements and institutions. Too often they involve bureaucrats (the vulture elite?) which frequently do not share our values or have our best interests at heart. Or, possibly,any interests other than their own.
Dave Schuler"

Of crooks, capitalists, bankers, billionaires and oil: yes, Russia again

"On the Leonid Reiman story, you are following the wrong trail. It is the Alfa Group -- Megafon's competitor -- pushing this story. The Alfa Group has seriously important connections in the US, especially media. So I would back away from the political slant and stick with what it is almost always about: MONEY!"
-- Peter Lavelle from Dec 14 Pundita post

"Pundita, dear, you must have heard John Batchelor egging on Gary Kasparov last night. Have you noticed that John is out for Vladimir Putin's scalp? Do you think this has something to do with Iran? Or with the WSJniki? Congratulations on your retirement. Of course I will miss you.
Boris in Jackson Heights"

Dear Boris:
For my part I will miss Pundita-land's Resident Cynic. But we must look on the bright side, Boris. Pundita's retirement saves her readers from dedicating a month to figuring out what is going on with Rosneft, the Alfa Consortium, Mikhail Fridman, the European and American central banks, and the Wall Street Journal-Financial Times crowds. In other words, trying to figure out the ruckus would be as much fun as investigating China's Mystery Illness.

However, I think we could get into the ballpark if we applied Peter's advice about Russia's telecom scandal to the larger situation. In other words, the ruckus probably has something to do with money. It must be really big money, if John Batchelor invites Kasparov on his show twice in the same month to rant that Russian democracy has gone to hell in a handbasket.

Now that Don Evans has rejected President Putin's olive-branch offer to head up Rosneft, I am hoping that Putin will offer the job to a Russian. But at least according to today's Moscow News, he is still looking for an American in the hope this will be a sop to the Wall Street Journal-Financial Times crowds.(1)

Nothing will mollify the WSJniki until Putin is run out of Russia on a rail. And consider the uproar in Europe when Gerhard Schröder agreed to head up Gazprom. The big US-West European investors and speculators are hopping mad about Putin's recent statement that foreign banks are no longer terribly welcome in Russia.

I would think that a frosty climate in Russia for US and West European banks puts Russia's Alfa Bank in a very powerful position and thus, gives Russia's central bank clout in The Casino.(*) Down the line this could make the Russian ruble a contender at The Casino. I am not sure how The Lords of the Craps Table would react to this.

I am also unsure about Mikhail Fridman's position in Russia's post-Yukos era. As Chairman of Alfa Group Consortium he has tremendous power but he has come under fire recently because of a privatization scandal. And he is one of Russia's Oligarchs. I don't know whether his relationship with Putin has changed dramatically since Yukos was broken up.

Pundita does not agree with Peter Lavelle's contention that the Kremlin "stole" Yukos -- not unless you want to consider it stealing when a government does not exert itself to warn crooks that this time they are serious about collecting back taxes. However, the Yukos takeover was messy and also very traumatic for Russia's business community. Certainly, it was a rough way for the government to send the message that the rule of the Oligarchs had ended in Russia.

The one person in all this I haven't read anything bad about, despite his association with Fridman, is Peter Aven, the President of Alfa Bank. I might have to eat my words but his credentials are impressive and to all appearances he is very dedicated to getting Russia on her feet.

So if the WSJniki are simply worried about solvency and efficiency, they might not have a heart attack if Aven headed up Rosneft. The question is whether Putin would even consider a Russian for the post at this time. Any Russian who leads Rosneft will automatically gain tremendous political clout in Russia. Putin might prefer a foreigner for that reason; if so, I think that would be shortsighted. It's sending a message to the Russian people that a Russian can't be trusted to head the nation's most valuable company.

That message undercuts the rationale for going after the Oligarchs, who were perfectly willing to sell out Russia to foreigners. The message also plays into the hands of Russia's xenophobics, which of course follow the hard Right in Russia.

Yet I don't think the xenophobics are just a bunch of Skinheads attacking foreigners, although their recent antics called forth a stern lecture from Putin that "extreme nationalism" wouldn't be tolerated. If we recall that US senators used an ax on Japanese electronic appliances at the height of Japan's attempt to buy up the United States, I think we're in the ballpark about Russian sensitivities at this time.

The Kremlin will keep 51% share control of Rosneft, which still leaves 49% up for grabs to foreign investors. That should be enough for the rest of the world, I should think. So why not put a Russian in charge of Rosneft to assure the Russian people that it won't be McRosneft?

Pundita does not know what the Kremlin would think of my logic, and it could be that offering the top post at Rosneft to an American is tied with a plan to build a pipeline that would deliver up to 1 million barrels of oil per day to the United States from the port of Murmansk. Reportedly the Kremlin may be giving consideration to the plan.

The Kremlin didn't exactly go broke breaking up Yukos but between setting up Gazprom and Rosneft, they took on a huge pile of debt. Yet I think they should be able to scare up foreign investor interest without having to give the plummiest job in Russia to an American.

The long view (which is of no concern to US-managed pension funds) is that it's in America's best interest if the Russian people are happy -- as happy as it's possible for Russians to ever be. They need to stop thinking of themselves as a land of crooks and develop more faith in their future.

Translation: Trying to run Vladimir Putin out of Russia is not the way to encourage more help from his government in dealing with Syria and Iran.

* The Casino is Pundita's name for the international monetary system; The Lords of the Craps Table are those who greatly influence the system; i.e., major central banks, BIS, currency traders for major banks, OPEC ministers, and IMF.

December 21, 2005.
Evans Rejects Putin's Offer to Chair Rosneft
By Maria Levitov
The Moscow Times

"Former U.S. Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, a close ally of President George W. Bush, has declined a controversial Kremlin offer to take a senior position at state-run Rosneft.

Evans told reporters in Washington late Monday that family and business commitments would not allow him to take the job. [...]

Last week, former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder came under fire after he announced plans to head a Gazprom-led pipeline project that he had pushed while in office.

After Putin hinted on Friday that Rosneft might hire a prominent Westerner, Evans also began to face increasing public pressure not to accept a job with a Russian energy company.

The exact position offered to Evans was unclear, but he told the Financial Times that he had turned down "a position of serious responsibility at Rosneft."

Evans currently serves as CEO of the Financial Services Forum, a group of senior executives from 20 of the largest U.S. financial institutions.

Despite Evans' rejection, market watchers said the Kremlin was likely to continue wooing high-profile foreigners to burnish Rosneft's image ahead of a planned IPO.

The state plans to sell up to 49 percent of Rosneft in an IPO next year to repay a $7.5 billion loan raised to buy a majority stake in Gazprom. A Western executive would likely instill confidence among foreign investors in a company that has been sullied by the messy destruction of Mikhail Khodorkovsky's Yukos empire. Rosneft acquired Yukos' largest production unit, Yuganskneftegaz, after a forced government auction last year.

Khodorkovsky is serving an eight-year prison sentence for fraud and tax evasion in a Siberian penal colony after a highly politicized trial.

Evans' rejection must have come as an embarrassment to the authorities, who failed to sound out their candidate better before making a job offer, said Chris Weafer, chief strategist at Alfa Bank. The next candidate, likely also to be a foreigner, will be tapped more discreetly, he said.

"We know that Schröder is busy," said Peter Westin, chief economist at MDM Bank.

In an opinion piece published in The Wall Street Journal on Monday, former world chess champion and outspoken Putin critic Garry Kasparov called Schröder's decision to work for Gazprom "one giant leap for corruption in the West." Kasparov went on to write that Evans' acceptance of the job "would formally put the Bush administration's heretofore-unspoken presidential seal of approval on the Kremlin's dirty dealings."

Evans also received direct appeals not to take the job in editorials in The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. However, he denied that he had bowed to criticism about taking the job, the Journal reported on Tuesday.

Rosneft stands to gain from the clout and expertise of an experienced foreign executive. But Westin said that Evans, who quit his job at the Commerce Department in February, was not the right man for Rosneft.

A senior position at the oil company is not simply an industry job, but also a political position, said Westin. Ethical questions "would be less of a concern if someone came from business, rather than politics," he said.

The next candidate will probably be identified before next summer's Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg -- and will most likely be an American, Alfa Bank's Weafer said.

The so-called U.S.-Russia energy dialog has hardly moved ahead since the beginning of the Yukos affair in 2003, Weafer said, and the Kremlin could be looking for an American to revive it.

Before he was arrested, Khodorkovsky had been pushing for the construction of a privately owned pipeline -- much to the Kremlin's chagrin -- to deliver up to 1 million barrels of oil per day to the United States from the northern port of Murmansk.

"It's well known that the U.S. has been interested in this project," Weafer said. Before Rosneft took over Yuganskneftegaz, the state did not have its own company in place to run the project, he said.

Now, the Kremlin may be more inclined to proceed with the Murmansk pipeline, and an American in a senior Rosneft chair would help jump-start the process, Weafer said."

Tuesday, December 20

The connection between Mad Cow disease, soybeans, and the air you breathe

"Now soya is rapidly advancing from all sides toward the heartland of the Amazon, fuelling massive deforestation."

The question is the extent to which the giant American agribusiness Cargill stands behind Brazil's soybean king -- indeed, the extent to which Cargill created his political power in Brazil. If this is a new question for you, read on....

"The Brazilian government released figures yesterday showing that the amount of [Amazon rainforest] deforestation that took place last year was the second worst on record. Some 26,130 square kilometres of rainforest were cleared in the 12 months to August 2004. This was only surpassed in 1995 when an area the size of Belgium was erased."
-- (UK) Independent editorial, 20 May 2005

The survival of the Amazon forest...may be the key to the survival of the planet. The jungle is sometimes called the world's "lung" because its trees produce much of the world's oxygen. It is thought nearly 20 per cent of it has already been destroyed by legal and illegal logging, and clearance for cattle ranching...the soya boom has dramatically stepped up the pace of destruction. It began on the back of the BSE [Mad Cow disease] crisis in Britain, when the feed given to cattle suddenly became a matter of intense public concern. Cattle feed producers around the world switched to soya as an untainted source.
-- from the following report

"The rape of the rainforest... and the man behind it
May 20, 2005
By: Michael McCarthy and Andrew Buncombe
The (UK) Independent

It is stark. It is scarcely believable. But the ruthless obliteration of the Amazon rainforest continues at a headlong rate new figures reveal - and today we reveal the man who more than any other represents the forces making it happen. He is Blairo Maggi, the millionaire farmer and uncompromising politician presiding over the Brazilian boom in soya bean production. He is known in Brazil as O Rei da Soja - the King of Soy. Brazilian environmentalists are calling him something else - the King of Deforestation.

For the soya boom, feeding a seemingly insatiable world market for soya beans as cattle feed, is now the main driver of rainforest destruction. Figures show that last year the rate of forest clearance in the Amazon was the second highest on record as the soy boom completed its third year.

An area of more than 10,000 square miles - nearly the size of Belgium - was cut down, with half the destruction in the state of Mato Grosso, where Mr Maggi, whose Maggi Group farming business is the world's biggest soya bean producer, also happens to be the state governor.

Mr Maggi sheds no tears over lost trees. In 2003, his first year as governor, the rate of deforestation in Mato Grosso more than doubled. In an interview last year he said: "To me, a 40 per cent increase in deforestation doesn't mean anything at all, and I don't feel the slightest guilt over what we are doing here. We are talking about an area larger than Europe that has barely been touched, so there is nothing at all to get worried about."

Many people violently disagree. The survival of the Amazon forest, which sprawls over 4.1 million sq km (1.6 million sq miles) and covers more than half of Brazil's land area, may be the key to the survival of the planet. The jungle is sometimes called the world's "lung" because its trees produce much of the world's oxygen. It is thought nearly 20 per cent of it has already been destroyed by legal and illegal logging, and clearance for cattle ranching.

But the soya boom has dramatically stepped up the pace of destruction. It began on the back of the BSE crisis in Britain, when the feed given to cattle suddenly became a matter of intense public concern. Cattle feed producers around the world switched to soya as an untainted source. The boom was intensified by the fact that Brazil - in contrast to the US and Argentina - did not go down the GM route in its agriculture, so when most European countries went GM-free, it was from Brazil that they sought their soya bean supplies.

Europe now imports 65 per cent of its soya from Brazil. A further impetus to the boom is coming from China, whose emerging middle class wants to eat more and more meat - so the demand for animal feed is soaring. The soya boom is bitterly criticised by environmentalists.

"It is turning the rainforest into cattle feed. It is gross," said John Sauven, head of the rainforest campaign for Greenpeace UK.

It first showed up in the deforestation figures in 2003, when after falling or staying steady for eight years, the rate of destruction leapt by 40 per cent in a single year, from 18,170 sq km to 25,500 sq km.

Since then the rate has stayed at its new high level, with 24,597 sq km cut down the next year, and, as the figures released yesterday by the Brazilian environment ministry showed, from satellite photos and other data, no less than 26,130 sq km of rainforest was cut down in the 12 months to August 2004. This was a further leap of 6 per cent on the year before and caused immense dismay, not least because President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's government adopted an action plan last year to protect the Amazon.

The Environment Minister, Marina Silva, who is from the Amazon state of Acre, said the figure was high, but promised the country would "work to fight this in a structured way, with lasting and effective action, involving all sectors".

Greenpeace's Amazon co-ordinator Paulo Adario said the scale of the destruction was a tragedy, and showed that deforestation was "not a priority for the Lula government".

Mr Maggi, whose company grossed $600m last year, does not see the future as one of restricted soya plantings. He has called for a tripling of the amount of land planted with soybeans during the next decade in Mato Grosso, and his company announced last year that it intended to double the area it has in production.

How demand for soya drives the destruction
The production of soya beans is now a vital industry for Brazil. Agribusiness is the country's number one export earner, and soya is the principal commodity. The current government under President Lula actively promotes soya export as a means to earn foreign exchange for debt payments.

From the 1960s, the Brazilian government promoted soya cultivation so Brazil could become self sufficient in vegetable oils. Soya was increasingly planted on large-scale, fully mechanised farms in the south and the states on the Atlantic coast.

In the past, some agro-engineers believed soya would never threaten the rainforest, because of climatic limitations and soil conditions. Soya was thought to be "as adaptable to conditions of the tropical climate as a panda bear to the African savannah".

However, the development of new varieties has enabled the rapid expansion of soya plantations north, into the tropical states where the rainforest is situated. Between 1995 and 2004, the area cultivated with soya increased by 77 per cent in the centre-west, with Mato Grosso becoming the single biggest producer.

Now soya is rapidly advancing from all sides toward the heartland of the Amazon, fuelling massive deforestation. Two companies dominate Brazil's soya business. Gruppo Maggi, owned by Blairo Maggi, Mato Grosso's governor, is considered to be the world's largest individual soya producer. The number one soy-exporter is the giant US grains business, Cargill."
* * * * *
If you were interested enough in the topic to read this far and would like a tiny idea of what the Amazon rainforest is really up against, read this first, then plow through the entire report on the RSS meeting...

"[Also attending RSS] the Dutch bank Rabobank and the English bank HSBC, which are among the main shareholders of ADM, Cargill, Bunge and Louis Dreyfus, the four companies that control the world trade of soy. The International Finance Corporation, part of the World Bank, a big financier of the expansion of soy, was also present. In 2002 and 2004, the IFC gave two loans of 30 million dollars each to the Amaggi group to expand storage infrastructure and for liquid capital, but without carrying out the adequate environmental and social evaluations. Financing this expansion signifies the expulsion of the indigenous peoples and farmers from their lands and more deforestation."
-- from Roundtable on Sustainable Soy - Alotau Enviornment blog

Victory in Iraq

"Look, the US has lost the war in Iraq - everybody knows this. Iran isn't taking any chances the Bush "lie machine" won't target Iran next to cover its tracks. Iran is acting rationally. (I don't like the Iranian regime.) We have seen the same kind of US pressure against Syria lately. Again, Iran is acting defensively."
-- Peter Lavelle, from Dec 16 Pundita
post about reported Russian sale of SAMs and weapons tech to Iran

December 16
"Pundita, I wonder if Peter Lavelle thinks we are losing in Iraq as a result of the US not attempting to "win" in the classical sense? One could argue we are actually attempting to "lose", but in a specific way.
Alaska Reader"

Dear Alaska Reader:
Wouldn't our enemies love to know what CENTCOM is attempting to do in Iraq, eh? Realize that some of the people making accusations against the Bush administration are attempting to glean information. It's one of the oldest tricks in the book: if your opponent is very close-mouthed you might loosen his tongue if you make a wild accusation against him. The Bush administration is the tightest-lipped in modern US history and the Defense Department has their lips zipped.

But in Peter's case, I assume he's simply repeating what he knows from watching CNN International, BBC and Russian television. In other words, his view of the Iraq campaign is shared throughout much of Europe and among the antiwar camp in the United States. And even many Americans who supported the Iraq invasion believe the US is losing the war in Iraq -- or least, having won we lost the peace.

From that view, one might argue that the Allied forces did not win World War Two until the Warsaw Pact dissolved in 1991. There are parallels; by knocking out Saddam's regime, this knocked out a counter-force to Iran's military. With Hitler's forces beaten, this knocked out a counter-force to Stalin's forces.

But we know from what Jim Ellsworth wrote (and which I published in the dialogue about Saddam Hussein's trial) and from other military sources that CENTCOM was not born yesterday. They knew that knocking out Saddam would unleash other forces in the region, including al Qaeda.

In some ways it's like pest control. Farmers have learned the hard way that if you kill off one crop pest, you can set off an onslaught from the prey of the bug you wiped out. However, human beings generate so many varieties of responses that the analogy to crop pests is not useful.

There are many variables that could only emerge after Saddam's Baathist regime was toppled. So the phase of the war, post-Saddam, is highly reflexive on both sides. Keep in mind that the enemy couldn't predict how all the chips would fall, either.

Of course "highly reflexive" suggests the need for much improvisation and going back to the drawing board, which Congressional check-writers don't like, which the media do not like, and which in fact everyone having to watch from the sidelines does not like.

Above all, everybody watching a war hates the words "campaign" and "theater." We want a theater of war nicely labeled The War, so we can win or lose, so then everybody can go home. It's nerve wracking to follow a war.

Pundita used to sit around at 2:00 o'clock in the morning listening to John Batchelor's war reports; I'd get so nervous I'd throw my pen across the room and snap, "I am not going to listen to this any more."

By the time Batchelor's show was moved to an earlier time slot I'd calmed down a little.

Are we winning in Iraq? We already won that campaign; the Coalition defeated Saddam's military. As for the rest, we'll find out. My money's on CENTCOM.

As for the Bush "lie machine," again Peter is repeating widely held views in Russia and among European allies who strongly opposed the invasion of Iraq. There are lies told in war, but Bush did not lie the US into a war.

Call and Response

Sometimes I wish I had a comment section so that all readers could share the letters I receive in connection with Pundita essays. (Then I recall that often people put more thought into letters than a comment section.) Here I share a brief exchange with Peter Lavelle, and my replies to two letters that I hope all readers will find interesting. Many thanks to all the readers who have taken the time to write since learning that Pundita blog is ending.

December 16
"Hi Pundita!
Sorry to be so tardy in my reply -- I have had a terrible flu...I am honored to accept your wonderful weblog award!
Peter Lavelle in Moscow"

Hullo, Peter!
Sorry to hear you were under the weather and hope this letter finds you better...I am tickled that you appreciated the Pundita award. Thank you again for the time you took on December 3 to educate me about matters Russian.

I don't need to tell you how strongly I feel that Americans need to get educated about Russia, which is virtually impossible to do without resorting to the Internet. I think of your Untimely Thoughts blog as a vital "public service."

Well, Peter, now that I am leaving the blogosphere (at least for the foreseeable future) and will be spending FAR less time in the coming year tracking world events, I will miss you and hope we can keep up our infrequent email exchanges on occasion, if only to say "Hello!"

All the best to you and your writing endeavors.

"December 18
Pundita, I have thoroughly enjoyed both your writing and my resulting education since I came across your blog sometime in the summer. I am a professional cellist by trade (and aspiring to become a well-paid one!), but also a student of political junkies and human nature in general, and your writings have given me a glimpse of the structures that underlie the surface movements of geopolitics and government. I wish you success in your endeavors, and hope for you to visit the blogosphere as often as your time permits. Thank you for writing.
Matt in New England"

Dear Matt:
Thank you for the letter of appreciation and for your good wishes. In turn I wish you great happiness in your career of music. Although I make occasional forays to break up the routine, giving readers that glimpse you wrote about is Pundita's mission statement. For several months I had the statement posted on the sidebar as a link to the essay titled "In search of where we are now." So, thanks such as yours are particularly treasured.

I did not start out to teach -- I have neither the training nor temperament for teaching -- and I did not think I was trying to teach at the first. Within a few months I realized that I had taken on too big a task and acquired the responsibility of teaching. It was a cartoonish moment: maybe like Roadrunner suddenly looking down while zipping across thin air. I decided to shut down the blog.

Then I received a letter that said simply, "You opened doors for me" and which recounted the reader's deepened view of world affairs that had come from reading the blog.

After chewing it over, I realized that I was not applying my highly improvisational style to the situation of the blog. In a sense not being able to do something is quite liberating, for whatever one does from that moment on toward the situation, one has nothing to lose by trying in any which way.

In other words, if you're dead in the water anyway, might as well keep thrashing around. In earlier days that attitude got me through (and helped me get others through) some very dangerous situations in far-flung regions of the world.

With that, I decided that I should not "try" to teach and just write from the heart in my own way. So here I am today, answering a letter of thanks from a reader who discovered Pundita's blog in the summer, which might not have happened if I'd shut down the blog in the spring.

December 20
"Pundita! I was so sad when I realized I was right and you are leaving then today I started laughing when I read Another Kind of Beer. I could just see the situation for that woman because it was really my situation when I found your blog. I got completely freaked out by 9/11 then when I tried to understand it I got overwhelmed because it was all so foreign. So then I retreated into listening to Coast to Coast and trying to shut out the world. I mean, it was easier to worry about aliens and ghosts than to try to understand Palestine and the Shia and the Sunnis and all.

Then somebody called and said to read your blog. You were talking with wild animals about world issues. I thought, "That's better than aliens." That's why I thought up food presents for your team and when you published my letter I saw you played along. You made everything into an adventure, even research. Of course it isn't just an adventure but it's the attitude. You helped me get the right attitude to take in world news, in the same way you got that woman to see she was not lost in a strange land.

With love and best wishes for whatever you do in future,
No longer Sleepless but still in St. Louis

Dear No Longer Sleepless:
The rest of the team joins me in wishing you all best and we thank you for your many contributions to this blog. And many thanks from the rest of the Team for all the food goodies.

In trying to create a sense of adventure I took my inspiration from my Dad, who was a scientist, and also from George Gurdjieff's time of leading a small band of artists and intellectual out the Russian Revolution to safety in France.

My Dad taught me to look at science as a diagloue between humans and the larger natural world. It comes down to call and response; if you frame questions in a way that Nature can 'answer' by Yes or No, then you can string together the replies into sentences of a sort that the human brain can understand.

He taught me that scientists often get bogged down because they can't think of the right way to frame questions and so the idea is to keep improvising even when working blindfolded. Eventually, if you stick at it, you'll find a way to ask a question that brings illuminating results.

Mr Gurdjieff taught the same lesson to the Russians he rescued. His charges were clueless when they started out. They assumed the revolution would quiet down shortly and the world they knew would remain intact. I think I have mentioned before that the women set off on the journey in high heels, as if they were going to a picnic in the park.

That's the group he had to lead through chaos, warfare and human slaughter; one day the Red Army would be in control of the countryside and another day the White Army.

Gurdjieff knew that the safe, highly civilized world the intellectuals and artists inhabited was gone; meanwhile he had to turn the group into tough survivors while not breaking their spirit. He turned it into a grand adventure for them; he taught them to improvise when they had no idea of how to proceed. And he taught them patience.

Sometimes, as in the situation of the woman in the Beer story, all one can do is wait. But how you wait is important. It is your time, your life, so don't see the wait as a delay. You are never late for the events of your life. Everything that happens in your time is yours, your experience.